Public Means Online

Today’s Washington Post features an editorial supporting the new Public Online Information Act, H.R. 4858.

[Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY] “has introduced the Public Online Information Act (POIA), a sensible and modest bill that could nevertheless be a catalyst for important changes in how the federal government thinks about and handles public information. It could also lead to greater transparency in the workings of the government.”

As the folks at the Sunlight Foundation have noted: “public means online.”

However, the realities of getting the bill passed means that it does have its limits.  Most notably, “public information generated by Congress, including real-time lobbying registrations, is exempt from the mandatory provision, as are public filings within the judicial branch.”

But with and other transparency efforts ongoing, we can be hopeful for even bigger changes down the road.

Yesterday, Carl Malamud gave a rousing talk to the NOCALL Spring Institute about

[By the way, NOCALL throws down an amazing Spring Institute every year — this year was no exception!  Besides the terrific parties, they always pull in a great range of speakers and topics, from Ryan Calo (on Privacy Tools) to Mark Sirkin (on New Roles in the Law Firm of the Future).  Many attendees spoke highly of the forum on the Google Book Settlement, featuring Mary Minow, Gary Reback and Andrew Bridges.  On Saturday, I enjoyed demonstrating the awesome RECAP plug-in — hopefully, more folks will be downloading PACER court documents to the archive. ]

Malamud’s inspirational talk got the crowd buzzing.  NOCALL members are already involved in the prototype of a national law inventory for the effort.  And, invigorating talks like this one should help spread the word and add more volunteers to the project.    As Malamud mentioned, the inventory will help provide key metrics for the report (for example: how many municipalities assert copyright over their regulations).

While the California legal inventory is now underway, more work is needed [READ: please contact me if you would like to volunteer to help!].  And, other AALL chapters/working groups should be starting their legal inventory projects very shortly.

For those who are still curious about and for those who are contemplating volunteering for their own state legal inventory project(s), I encourage you to view at least one of Malamud’s talks online and/or read his “By the People” pamphlet.

Stay tuned…As “public means online’, equals change.

Third Party Websites that Transform Government Data

The good folks OpenCongress at  have just updated their Wiki page of websites generated by third parties that make available raw government information (most at no cost).    The list includes federal, state and a few international resources.

Transparency Corps

Jonathan Zittrain presented the Keynote Address for the AALL 2009 conference on Sunday, July 26th.  And, the talk was really energizing.

Zittrain mentioned quite a few examples of the web matching all manner of projects with interested people.

One really noteworthy project along those lines has been developed by the Sunlight FoundationTransparency Corps is a chance for any one of us to do a little and contribute quite a lot.  As the site states:

“Transparency Corps is the Sunlight Foundation’s answer to the question, “How can I help?”.  There are many big problems that we can solve with technology, but we can’t solve them all. For many of the projects that make government transparency a reality, human eyes and analysis are required. With Transparency Corps, we break those tasks down into short, small actions that make a BIG difference. Join the Corps, and let’s get started!”

I decided to join, and in very short order I moved from the ‘novice’ level to the impressive ‘hunter’ level.  Maybe someday, I can be a ‘Transparency Master’.  Any transparency warlords in our midst?

Life and Death of Legislation in the 110th Congress

Fascinating new study by the folks at the Sunlight Foundation has just been released.

The Life and Death of Congressional Bills in the 110th Congress:A window into what happens to bills in congress,” seems to be a must-read for anyone who teaches legal research.

So, for the 110th congress, did you know:

  • there were 11059 bills introduced
  • of those, 3724 were introduced in the Senate and 7335 were introduced in the House
  • 442 bills became law — 4% of the bill introduced
  • and, most bills died in the committee of the chamber where it was introduced

And, they have all sorts of graphs and charts for you to get a real visual insight into the life cycle of legislation.

[hat tip to Ellen Miller]

Open Secrets – Open Data

The Center for Responsive Politics is posting 200 million data records on-line today — FOR FREE.  The data set will be available at:

According to an announcement on, the following data sets, are now available in CSV format:

“195 million records dating to the 1989-1990 election cycle, tracking campaign fund-raising and spending by candidates for federal office, as well as political parties and political action committees.”

“3.5 million records on federal lobbyists, their clients, their fees and the issues they reported working on, dating to 1998.”

“Reports from members of Congress and the executive branch that detail their personal assets, liabilities and transactions in 2004 through 2007.”

“Electronically filed financial records beginning in the 2004 election cycle for the shadowy issue-advocacy groups known as 527s.”
[Hat tip to Ellen Miller and the Sunlight Foundation]

Read the Bill, Please

Imagine having to read an entire casebook in just half a day…Well, Congress only had 13 hours to read the 1100 page stimulus bill.

The good folks at the Sunlight Foundation have started the Read the Bill project:

“ is a commonsense solution – we want Congress to post all bills online for 72 hours before they are debated. That gives members of Congress – and you – three days to read legislation and consider how it could potentially affect each of us in our daily lives. A 72 hour rule would also give you a chance to let your senators and representative in Congress know what you like, or don’t like, about a bill before they vote.”

Want to help?  Spread the word (tweet #readthebill) and sign their petition.

Internet empowerment

Good op-ed in today’s USA Today“Internet empowerment,” by Ellen S. Miller (co-founder of Sunlight Foundation).

Faith in government is rooted in transparency, and online resources are giving citizens an indispensible weapon in the arsenal of democracy.

. . .

To take advantage of the full power of the Internet, there are some simple things every agency should do. All data should be made available in formats that are open, searchable and “mashable.” That way, creative programmers can more easily create new ways of looking at things. For example, the map shows thousands of earmarks in the fiscal 2008 defense-appropriations bill layered over a map of the country.

Read the Bill & More

Lots of fresh air today: 

-Noon-time twitter ‘rally’ for the Yes We Scan campaign (#yeswescan) for Carl Malamud

-Just in from the Sunlight Foundation:

In our Read the Billcampaign we are advocating that all bills be placed online for 72 hours prior to consideration. Specifically, the Read the Billcampaign asks that bills be accessible, in text format, online and posted to a commonly visited web site, GPO or THOMAS.

And, midnight tonight (ET):

“Wired is officially launching “ Is Coming — Let’s Help Build It,”a wiki designed to find and identify important and valuable data sets held by the federal government, and to make them available and usable. ” [snippet from the  Sunlight Foundation]

Missing Memos

ProPublica has the first ever comprehensive list of the missing Bush era legal memorandum on counter-terrorism policies including detention, wiretapping and interrogation. 

The compilers of this list, Dan Nguyen and Christopher Weaver, provide details on nearly 40 such memos, including information on the memos’ authors as well as a time-line.   A few of the memos are already public due to litigation, but most aren’t available.

Nguyen and Weaver also explain that it falls on President Obama to solve this problem.

I ran across this resource while reading the Sunlight Foundation’s post on Eric Holder’s preference for disclosure “to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns” of OLC memos.

Finding Fundraising Around the Clock

The Sunlight Foundation’s SunSpots blog is a great resource.  Today, the blog featured a special election season database. has created a “granular look at fundraising” by Democratic candidates.   This database shows you how candidates fundraising measures up, day by day, week by week, month by month and quarter by quarter.   This is an amazing snapshot of fundraising and a free research tool, too.